At a famous Socialist Congress that occurred in Chicago in 1910, American socialists adopted the following resolution:
“The Socialist party of the United States favors all legislative measures tending to prevent the immigration of strike breakers and contract laborers, and the mass importation of workers from foreign countries, brought about by the employing classes for the purpose of weakening the organization of American labor and of lowering the standard of life of the American workers.” (Carlton 1911: 352).Amongst these American socialists were many Marxists or reformist Marxists, but these days Marxists seem to be militantly in favour of open borders.
A fundamental point: one of the major reasons why wages are so high in the West is that historically we have enjoyed a high degree of labour market protectionism, certainly after the late 19th century. That is to say, national borders stop immigration of huge quantities of cheap labour, so that Western labour scarcity helps to bid up the price of labour and hence real wages. This is just another example of how pure free trade and completely free movement of people from the Third World to the West are dangerous ideas largely contrary to the real world history of Western capitalism. (On a related point, a recent Bank of England working paper argues that years of mass immigration into Britain has tended to hold down real wages for semi- and unskilled British service workers forced to compete for jobs; see Nickell and Saleheen 2015).
This issue is extremely topical. In Germany (although admittedly the full details are not yet clear) there are plans afoot to create about 100,000 subsidised jobs in which private businesses may be able to pay wages as little as €1 an hour to employ migrants and have the rest of the minimum wage subsidised by the German government (see here). In other words: if you are a domestic unskilled or low-skilled German worker, your chances of getting a job will fall off a cliff as businesses can employ migrants for 1 euro an hour – even while German taxpayers dole out corporate welfare to private employers. Is that not a type of class war on the German working class? Is this not a recipe for driving ordinary German voters to the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party?
So where are all the open borders Marxists on this issue?
Carlton, Frank Tracy. 1911. The History and Problems of Organized Labor. D.C. Heath, Boston.
Nickell, Stephen and Jumana Saleheen. 2015. “The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages: Evidence from Britain,” Bank of England Staff Working Paper No. 574, 18 December 2015